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DISD School Closures Could Shut Down Winning Teams

The Dallas School District held its first public meetings last night about eleven under-populated schools set to close. The district hopes to save millions of dollars with the move, as it faces a huge budget shortfall from state funding cuts. KERA’s Bill Zeeble reports the plan to save money could also mean the loss of quality education.

Usually when schools close, it’s because students have repeatedly performed poorly on standardized tests. But none of the Dallas schools are failing. In fact several soar. James Bonham Elementary boasts an impressive nine Exemplary scores. But none of its teachers, including Ann Vogel Vargas, the Talented and Gift instructor, are assured of jobs next year.

Vogel Vargas: We aren’t promised anything. We’re told we won’t have a position and we’re going to have to re-apply.

Rogelio Garcia: Oh yes, we could re-apply. Thanks. Awesome.

Vargas’ colleague, Rogelio Garcia, hardly hides his frustration. He’s a national award winning pre-kindergarten teacher. Garcia has taught at Bonham a dozen years and says there’s a reason the school’s mostly low-income, minority students turn in top scores; teachers demand high expectations.

Garcia: You have to put the children first. Here at Bonham we’re closing the achievement gap. As opposed to we just get dispersed among the district and the children are not provided with that continuity. Now by continuity I mean year after year you have good teacher, good teacher, good teacher. That’s how you close the achievement gap. If we’re dispersed among other schools, the students are not guaranteed a good teacher year after year after year.

Rogelio says if a principal from another school picks a teacher from a closed campus, the teacher will keep working. But Bonham pre-k instructor Alejandro Araujo says something even more vital will disappear when the school closes.

Araujo: What is lost is the team we have built in this school. it’s been a great team. The teachers work well together. I think that benefits students a lot. We kind of are in sync and talk to each other about what’s needed, what works for some and we can share strategies and that helps the student.

Ellen Wood says research confirms the importance of the team. Wood is co-executive director of the Ed-Entrepreneur Center in SMU’s Simmons School of Education. The center helps train aspiring principals.

Wood: We feel like one of the building blocks to great student performance is to have a high performing team with principals and teachers in a building with a very tight culture themselves. To have them working together is critical to have the students perform.

Wood says if Bonham closes, the team breaks up, and students will suffer. That’s what could happen at all eleven Dallas campuses. Wood says it could take years to re-assemble a great team of teachers. She understands DISD’s financial problems, but says the teacher team helps make schools like Bonham so effective.

Wood: The people side of teaching and education can’t be focused on enough. Really, the people are who make the difference for the students. And so respect for that position and for the best way to retain the highest performing people should be top of mind for the district.

The DISD administration does not see a downside to school closures. In fact, the district says students from closed schools will benefit by transferring to larger schools with more and better resources.

The Dallas School Board votes on closures next Thursday.

Related link:  Public hearing schedule for school-closure proposal  (

Bill Zeeble has been a full-time reporter at KERA since 1992, covering everything from medicine to the Mavericks and education to environmental issues.